Magic: The Gathering’s creator Richard Garfield made a guest appearance in a Magic30 livestream on November 4, and he had plenty of titbits and insight to share about the early development of the game. One of these stories was a little stranger than the rest, though – according to Garfield, he at one point planned to reward MTG designers for creating new, ban-worthy cards.
“Very early on in Magic, there was this proposal that developers be rewarded based on how many banned cards there were”, Garfield says. “We were talking about how to measure how good a designer was, and I advocated that the answer was not that banned cards were bad; actually, if there were no banned cards, then we weren’t being adventurous enough.”
Garfield’s anecdote was prompted by a question from a fan during the livestreamed panel. The fan implied that the trading card game was “becoming less like chess and more like ‘who has a bigger stick’” – but Garfield says managing this balance has always been part of Magic. “That has been an issue from the start, and it is a danger”, he says. “Wizards, I think, does a very good job of managing that – it’s very cognizant of that as an issue.”
“That doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t made”, Garfield adds. “If there weren’t mistakes being made, they [designers] weren’t taking their chances, and the game was less good than it could be.” “I think making mistakes is a part of this project, and then fixing them later is another part”, Garfield says.
Garfield pioneered trading card games back in 1993 with the invention of Magic: The Gathering. While his ideas for bulking out the MTG banlist didn’t stick, Garfield has also developed several other well-regarded TCGs – including Keyforge and Netrunner.
Garfield’s full interview covers the early development of MTG in more detail (see above). As well as his banned cards idea, Garfield made a particularly timely comment about Magic’s status as a game rather than a collectible. “We became very scared about the treatment of it as a collectible and were worried about the speculators,” Garfield says.
“And this is something that is hard to overstate how important this was in the first few years of Magic – how the company and many parts of it were delighted by the fact boosters would go on sale and they’d be immediately marked up and a later on they’d be selling for ridiculous prices.” “The people I was working with in R&D were trying hard to keep focused on the idea that this is a game first, and if you treat it as a collectible first, then you are not doing your game players any favours”, Garfield adds. This was likely music to the ears of fans angry about the 30th Anniversary Edition boosters.